County Commissioner Art De La Cruz plans to introduce a proposal that would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour in Bernalillo County outside the city limits, matching Albuquerque’s voter-approved ordinance.
But his proposal would sidestep one of the most controversial parts of the city rules — an increase for all tipped employees.
Instead, under De La Cruz’s plan, waiters and other tipped staffers would remain at the federal minimum of $2.13 an hour. Their employers, however, would have to make up the difference if the tips don’t get them to at least $8.50 an hour, or whatever the regular minimum is.
“We’re trying to do a little bit of a hybrid from what the city did,” De La Cruz said.
His proposal is scheduled for introduction at Tuesday’s commission meeting. It could come up for final action about 30 days later.
Much of the debate over Albuquerque’s ordinance has centered on tipped employees, who restaurateurs say are usually the highest-paid workers in the business. The city regulation, which went into effect this year, requires a $3.83 minimum wage for tipped employees, in addition to any tips they get.
De La Cruz said some waiters make $20 an hour. They wouldn’t get any increase under his proposal.
But waiters who work in less-lucrative restaurants would be guaranteed at least the $8.50 an hour, he said, because the restaurant would have to make it up otherwise.
His proposal also includes exceptions for baby sitters, youngsters under 16 years old and anyone employed by a close family member.
The goal is to boost the economy, De La Cruz said.
“The reality is, those aren’t the kind of dollars that people can save or hold onto,” he said. “They need it for food, for shelter, for very basic kinds of needs that will immediately cycle back into the economy.”
Commissioner Wayne Johnson said the wage hike would actually hurt workers by triggering job losses and reducing their chances of finding employment. Business owners can’t raises prices beyond what the market will bear to offset higher employee pay, he said.
Furthermore, raising the wage in some geographic areas but not others is unwise, he said. Businesses in Sandoval and Valencia counties, for instance, wouldn’t have to abide by a Bernalillo County wage law.
“I think it’s always a bad idea for you to do stuff like this piecemeal,” Johnson said.
De La Cruz’s proposal would increase the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8 on July 1 and to the full $8.50 on Jan. 1.
The County Commission would then have the option of raising the wage to keep up with inflation at the beginning of each year. The city law includes automatic increases, tied to inflation.
Enforcement of the ordinance would be similar to provisions in the city ordinance. Any employee receiving less than the minimum wage could file a lawsuit in court to recover three times what’s owed.
The county itself would have authority to “coordinate implementation and enforcement” of the ordinance.
Businesses would get a $1 break on the minimum wage if they provide a certain amount of annual health- or childcare benefits.
A spokeswoman for the New Mexico Restaurant Association said her group hadn’t seen De La Cruz’s proposal.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal